NEWS | June 3, 2019

Former FBI agent meets his match, and his hero

Surgeon saves patient's life, leg and knee


Jeff Rinek spent three decades capturing child murderers, kidnappers and molesters. But as dangerous as the retired FBI agent’s job was, it was his knees that nearly killed him.

Former FBI agent and author Jeff Rinek (right) shares a special bond with orthopaedic surgeon Mauro Giordani. Former FBI agent and author Jeff Rinek (right) shares a special bond with orthopaedic surgeon Mauro Giordani. "I put my life in his hands, and he gave me the desire to get better," Rinek said.

Due to osteoarthritis, when soft knee cartilage breaks down and bone rubs on bone, Rinek had already had two knee-replacement surgeries and was likely to need a third when he came to UC Davis Health. That’s when he met Mauro Giordani, an orthopaedic surgeon known for success with complex knee replacements. An exam showed one of Rinek’s implants was loosening but no other complications, so a new surgery was scheduled.

Everything changed before he reached the operating table.

“I was used to living with pain, but this was unbelievable,” Rinek said. “I knew I had an infection.”

Postponing knee number three

Infection is a rare but life- and limb-threatening complication of knee replacements, happening in about 1.5% percent of cases. Rinek’s risk was higher, however, because of a prior infection. Treatment involved removing and replacing his implant with antibiotic-infused spacers, along with intravenous antibiotics to prevent a widespread blood infection. Surgery for Rinek’s new knee had to wait and, in the meantime, he had to use a walker or wheelchair.

While Rinek the law enforcement agent was known for insight and stealth in capturing violent criminals, Rinek the patient was at the breaking point from living in pain. He didn’t want to wait for a new knee. Giordani was kind, but clear.

“I really do want to replace your knee,” he said. “But before I do, I need to save your life. Then, I need to save your leg.”

Rinek relented.

“I put my life in his hands, and he gave me the desire to get better,” Rinek said.

That desire kept him going for seven months, when he at last got knee number three.

Jeff Rinek with Dr. Giordani hugging
Rinek has expressed his thanks to Dr. Giordani in his book, in a letter and each time he sees him.

‘He is my hero’

Now, two years later, Rinek only has to see Giordani and his team twice a year — something he actually wishes he could do more often. He has written a book, giving him the chance to reflect on his high-pressure career, as well as his health. That process inspired him to thank Giordani in the book acknowledgements and at length in a letter to the vice chancellor of UC Davis Health.

“He is my hero,” Rinek wrote. “In my work, I have tried to mean a lot to others. I am the person they meet when their child goes missing. I hope that in my life, I have demonstrated the same ability, caring and compassion as he has to me.”

The UC Davis Health Department of Orthopaedic Surgery provides nationally ranked, comprehensive medical and surgical care of the musculoskeletal system for both adults and children. As a leading West Coast center for orthopaedic care and a key player in the world-renowned UC Davis Trauma Center — one of the largest and most sophisticated interdisciplinary trauma programs in the nation — the department provides a full spectrum of treatment specialties. Visit the department’s website for more information.

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Osteoarthritis information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention